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Previous Pint Pleasures - November 23, 2013

guinness eileen

Tullie Inn, Balloch Road, Balloch, Loch Lomond, Dumbartonshire, Scotland

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Balloch House Hotel, Balloch Road, Balloch, Loch Lomond, Dumbartonshire, Scotland

In August we drove up from Yorkshire to Scotland to attend a wedding on Loch Lomond. We ended up staying on the south end of the loch, in a B&B in the centre of the town of Balloch. Located at the north end of the Vale of Leven, Balloch is split by the River Leven, its two sides connected by a road bridge that supposedly, when it was constructed, reduced the number of people jumping into the river -- although people still make fatal jumps from the bridge.

Our B&B was next to the river, just opposite the railway station where trains on the North Clyde service terminate from Glasgow. We were happy to see a pub located next to the station, so that was to be our first stop.

Built in 1895, the Tullie Inn consists of the original Tudor-style accommodation rooms adjacent to the station, with the restaurant and bar in the more recently-built glasshouse at the front. The side heated garden leads to another massive garden in the rear. The decor is self-described as having a "Cape Cod nautical theme", which seems odd as we definitely felt like we were in Scotland and not Massachusetts. On this first visit the pub had just run out of the tempting Blonde & Bonnie, so we went for pints of The Ale of Leven (4.5% ABV, Loch Lomond Brewery, Alexandria, Dumbartonshire). This is a pale amber brew like spicy heather. Andrew described it as "a proper pint of Scottish heavy to sustain you through your glen walks." I could sense the distinct strain of a chanter in the remote braes of my palate. Our thrifty Scottish reveries were a bit tainted by the fact that the pints cost £3.75 each. But Loch Lomond is a tourist area, after all.

The next evening after a wedding-party meal in Duck Bay, we stopped in for a nightcap. We had a taste of The West Highland Way (3.7% ABV, Loch Lomond) which we both found to be a bit of a bland stroll. We decide to try pints of a cask lager, Schiehallion (4.8% ABV, Harviestoun Brewery, Dollar, Clackmannanshire, Scotland). The barman told us this had been popular, which is a good thing because we figure if lager drinkers decide to try a cask lager, they might actually discover taste. It's an excellent idea if I don't mind saying so. And I don't. I don't mind drinking a cask lager. I mean, what the hell? This is 2013 and it's the era of diversity. So why not a cask lager? My memory goes through shudders of my university years when there was nothing to drink but that shite watery American macro lager, back before I could afford to buy imports and before the microbrewery explosion that didn't start until later. If this is the new face of lager, then good on it!

Although it was raining a bit we sat out in the side garden and chatted with a pleasantly Bohemian couple, an Algerian schoolteacher who liked to think of himself as a philosopher and his woman companion, a Belgian artist. Like us they were staying in a nearby B&B -- in fact we ran into them the next morning as we stepped out of our B&B and they were on their way to catch a train.

The day before the wedding we managed to escape the prenuptial activities at the Cruin with brother-of-the-groom Jim. After a stop at a kilt shop in nearby Alexandria where Andrew and Jim got fitted for their wedding gear, we returned to Balloch to try the other pub which beckoned. Located across the bridge and overlooking the River Leven, the Balloch House Hotel was built in the early 18th century next to where ferries operated across the river. It became a hotel in the early 19th century, and it became known for the visit of Hans Christian Anderson in 1847 and the Empress Eugenie, wife of Louis-Napolean Bonaparte's nephew, in 1860. Today it's a fine cask ale pub offering a riverside deck and a log fire inside. The freshly cooked pub food includes vintage pies created by TV chef James Martin.

The inside of this traditional pub was busy with lunchers on this Saturday afternoon, so the three of us sat outside on the deck enjoying the view of the river and of the fancy cars parked in the adjacent car park. We decided on pints of Golden Summer (4.4% ABV, Wold Top Brewery, Driffield, East Yorkshire). Our pints were a bit cloudy, but they were nothing like the last time Andrew and I attempted to drink pints of an extremely cloudy brew in Bridlington. We figured these pints were probably only cloudy because they were very cold, and the beer had a very pleasant summery taste, just like the name implies. We were joined in our quiet respite by a little dunnock and lots of wasps. For some reason all of Loch Lomond was alive with wasps, and when we got back to Sheffield they seemed to have migrated there. Considering they weren't particularly aggressive, we really didn't mind -- although one or two kept wanting to dive into my pint glass. That would have been a tragic way to die, not to mention a tragic contamination of a pleasant beer.